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| 26 minutes read

Keeping It Civil: S1, Ep1 - IWD2023

Welcome to the first edition of our brand new podcast series, Keeping It Civil, which looks at legal, regulatory and current affairs perspectives from our team at Hassans and guests.

Among the subjects that we will cover in this first series will be episodes on cryptocurrency in the wider distributed ledger, technology space, developments in Web 3.0, why it makes so much sense to set up a business in Gibraltar, as well as developments in the online gaming and gambling context.

We recorded our debut episode during the week of #IWD2023 to have a discussion about not just International Women's Day, or what it means in 2023, but to hear about my guests personal experiences and what action can be taken on every day of the year. The episode was hosted by Partner, Selwyn Figueras. Our thanks go out to Partner Gemma Vasquez, and Senior Asscociates Chloe Oppenheimer-Fa and Tania Rahmany.


Transcription: 

Gemma Vasquez (GF): “In extreme circumstances, I happily say, you know, I was extremely lucky to have the employer that I have that stood by me in extremely difficult circumstances.”

Selwyn Figueras (SF): Hello and welcome to this, the first episode of our first and brand new podcast, keeping It Civil podcast brought to you by Hassan International law firm in Gibraltar. Keeping It Civil has been created with the hope of offering listeners a legal, regulatory and current affairs perspective from the team of experts at Hassans, as well as that of their guests, dealing with what we hope will become a comprehensive list of subjects as relate to Gibraltar and the wider financial services and legal regulatory space. Among the subjects that we will cover in this first series will be episodes on cryptocurrency in the wider distributed ledger, technology space, developments in Web 3.0. why it makes so much sense to set up a business in Gibraltar, as well as developments in the online gaming and gambling context.

We will, I expect, at some point, also be exploring the detail of any agreements or agreements that may result from the ongoing negotiations between the UK, Gibraltar and the EU, as regards Gibraltar's, exit from it.

My name is Selwyn Figueras. I'm a father of two, a lawyer and a partner at Hassans, as well as a one time frontline politician in the Gibraltar Parliament from 2011 - 2015. I'm delighted to be here today at the start of a new chapter in the firm's network and relationship development work in creating the debut of instalment for this new podcast series.

We are recording and launching this first episode during the week of International Women's Day, and we're therefore taking that opportunity to have a discussion about not just International Women's Day or what it means in 2023.

We're exploring, as we have endeavoured to do more and more in recent years, how we honour all the discussions that happen during this one day of the year with action on every other day of them.

Joining me for that discussion today are three lawyers from the team at Hassans, Gemma Vasquez, Chloe Oppenheimer Fa and Tania Rahmany.

Welcome to Keeping It Civil. Gemma is a Partner and team leader with the construction team here at the firm.

Chloe is a senior associate with the corporate and commercial team, as is Tania Rahmany.

Okay, so thank you very much to the three of you for being here today. It's very exciting to finally be getting our podcast off the ground and to be doing it in particular this week. I think it's very good of us that actually has turned out the way it has. These are very important issues and I'm delighted that they're the subject of this first episode of Keeping It Civil.

I suppose I'd like to start by asking you, Chloe, about your experience in balancing work and life in the context of a busy professional practice.

I'm not picking on you to go first. It's just that actually, as a person whose initiative this discussion was, I thought it would be great to give you an opportunity to set the tone for the discussion.

So perhaps you can tell us a little bit more about your experience in that context to get the discussion going.

02.53 Chloe Oppenheimer Fa (COF): Yes. So I first got exposed to this challenge of work life balance when I had my son six years ago. I went from working all hours and staying in the office until whatever time to get what I needed to be done, done.

And then, naively, I thought that that would continue to some extent after I had my son, Remy. But then it dawned on me that it was a lot more difficult to achieve and then maintain that balance, being very present at work and getting everything I needed done in a very short time period, but also being present and spending the right quality time with my family.

So I found myself looking around and thinking, how are people doing this? Not just women  necessarily, but just parents in general. And I thought, this isn't something that we talk about openly, maybe, because, I don't know, maybe we feel that it's seen as a bit of a weakness because we all know that we struggle to find that balance and maintain that balance.

But then I thought, if it's something that we talk about, then we can help others. Because, to be honest, I felt a little bit alone when I was going through this at the beginning because I think I was one of the only associates at the time that was having a baby. And, yeah, it just came as a big shock to me. And then ever since then, so my son is now six, I've been constantly trying to find that balance.

And at times I feel like I've got that balance and at other times I feel like it's all gone out the window and I've got to recalibrate again. It's almost like an equation that you're trying to put in all the right coordinates to get the result you need, but then two weeks later, all those coordinates fall out and then you've got to rebuild it again.

And actually, a lady called Joshua (Josh) Clayman from Linklaters in the US. I think she's got five children, but I was listening to a podcast, she was on the Mavericks podcast the other day and she said that it's like a wave. Sometimes you feel like you're riding the wave and then other times you feel like it's crashing over you.

And I really related to that because it's so true. And I know Gemma, we have regular conversations about this and I know that she feels similar.

05.25 SF: And I think one point that came to mind as you were talking was how actually the last three or four years, I wonder to what effect the COVID pandemic and therefore all that the move towards working from home and remote working, how that impacted on achieving or not that work life balance. And I wonder whether maybe we can touch on it.

But yes, Gemma, your experience, of course, is particularly difficult in the context of your family, of course. And perhaps you can give us your perspective on which Chloe was talking about.

06.04 GV: Yes, actually, I think that building up from what Chloe was saying, I think that a very important thing is for women to come forward and say, actually, it is really difficult, and actually, no one really has it under control. And to say, look, we're all struggling because the ideal of the perfect woman who has it all and who manages it all is this ideal that all women strive for.

A lot of women strive for the fact that you can cope with the work in the office, that you can cope with the work at home. And actually, I think that what we're all doing is spinning plates and trying to keep those plates spinning simultaneously. And look, occasionally something goes, a plate
falls, you dive to catch it. It's something which is very, very difficult to do, and it can only be done with a lot of support.

And I think that's where we have to sort of bank this. It's talking about, we'll take this, I suppose, to the motherhood penalty and all of this, but the one thing that I think is very important in my life is the support that you get externally.

And I know there's also a lot of discussions about the other women that you have to rely on in order to be able to do what you do at work. If we are working quite hard, I will always make it a point to go home at 6.30 and be at home with my kids. And 6.30 to 8.30 is a sacred period that I have with my children. But in order for me to be able to get to 6.30 with the children, with them having gone to their activities, with them, having done everything they need to do after school, and to that point, I need to rely on other people to be there, doing that, doing that element which I'm unable to do.

And I think it's about support and also acknowledgement it's about a bit of a cultural change for people to accept that you will go home at 6.30, and as long as the work is done, and whenever that work is done, you know, we speak about doing working from home. If you want to go home at 6.30 and then at 8.30, reconnect and carry on doing that work at 8.30, then as long as your clients are presented with the work at the end of the day, then however you manage to do that should be left to each individual.

But it's a cultural change, I think, as well as anything else. The office has always been a place, especially law firms, I think it's always been a place where your presence has been required. It's been a place where the hours have to be done, and that needs to change a little bit in order to accommodate working mothers, other working mothers and working fathers.

I was having this discussion with my husband the other day, and he was saying, my life has also changed because we've had children. So it's about women, but it's also about the impact that that has.

Flip sides who are working from home, however, is that you're trying to do everything at home and then that becomes everything I've never wanted to do type of scenario.

09.04 SF: I mean, the point on COVID that I made earlier is that I think if there was one upside to the very many majorly and principally negatives to the COVID pandemic and everything that it brought with it was that I think it forced almost an acceptance or an accommodation of that flexibility, for having to allow people to stay at home because we were locked down.

And address the issue of presence as well. It worked out that people didn't have to be present.
It's a big debate, of course, to be had, and that is being had in relation to the professional workspace. But yeah, presence isn't essential for success subject to controls. No.

09.52 GV: Yeah, we've also got to be careful what we wish for sometimes, because being at home also means that you're available to cook, to clean, and then in that scenario, it becomes a case of trying to literally do everything at once. And I think in that context, I mean, we saw it during the pandemic. Yeah. Parents on calls with kids running around in the background. And during the pandemic, I think accommodation was made and that was more acceptable, whereas I'm not sure that if you're on an ordinary call outside the pandemic and your children are running riots behind you, I don't think that is acceptable in the here and now.

10.34 Tania Rahmany (TR): It's interesting because I was reading a lot of sort of statistical information during the Pandemic about in particular, this example was academic output, and it was female academics and male academics and the output of their research and their papers and male academia output had increased exponentially during the pandemic because all these professors and staff were able to set aside a lot of the classes and the other work that they do to support their other time funding for universities and things and they were able to just dedicate themselves to their work and produce incredible output.

Women academics, on the other hand, had an enormous drop in their output because they were now doing all the things that before they had other support systems to take care of their children, do the cooking, do the cleaning, and they were at home schooling and that made it impossible for them to continue.

So I thought that was quite an interesting example about how flexible working really needs to be very tailored to individual scenarios. And having said that, I know it's the case for other surveys that I've looked at that women do report flexible working as one of the key solutions to barriers to their progression, because it's not necessarily about I want to work from home. It's about I need flexible working in a much wider sense of that term, whether that's hours of work, location of work, or also holiday periods.

We're seeing now people sort of having term time working schedules or similar. So there are many creative ways to address this, but I think it does come fundamentally to the question of trust and the question of culture change that Gemma referred to.

So it's not something that you can just put in a policy and say, off you go and take it, because actually, sometimes when that is done, nobody takes it up because there's too much fear of not repercussions. But what would people think of me if I start doing term time working? Or what will my promotion opportunities be like if I start working from home or if I work part time or whatever?

So there definitely is a culture change. And I think we often in this conversation, I think we've mentioned it already here today, how can women cope? And I think we need to start looking not how women can cope, but how women can thrive.

And women are not going to thrive if they feel at the end of every day absolutely exhausted and also feeling that they've done nothing right? So it's actually about, well, hold on, let's, first of all, ourselves not hold ourselves to a standard of perfectionism that we are yet to see anybody achieve. And also, let's not hold that standard for each other because I think we do hold each other to the standard that we hold ourselves, which is a very high one.

So, yeah, I think a little bit more kindness with ourselves and others. And it's not compassion of like, oh, well, do less work and go and relax. It's not that you're doing a great job regardless of how you do it, when you do it, what other things you're doing. And I think it's important to remind ourselves and each other of that.

13.39 COP I definitely experienced that standard of perfection when I first had my son. I thought that I could do it all and do it all perfectly in the sense that I wanted to be the perfect associate, I wanted to be the perfect wife, the perfect mom, and that pressure was just so too much.

And you can only maintain that for a certain period of time and then it just takes over. And I was like, this just isn't doable. And I thought, you know what? What if I take that pressure off a bit? And instead of it being my target, being perfection is just good, like, very good, but not perfect.
And the minute I took that pressure off, everything felt just obviously still hard, but much easier than it was before because I think you're right in that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect at everything.

And it's tough, it's amazing.

14.38 GV: But Selwyn alluded before to the difficulties that I'd had. So just to give a bit of insight in my first pregnancy when I came back to work associated with six months maternity leave and notwithstanding that six month maternity leave, I was still coming into the office during the maternity leave, I was bringing my newborn son or my baby into the office with me.

So there wasn't really a lull between during my maternity leave, I was still not coming into the
office to do work, but I was still keeping very much in touch with my clients. If something was needed, I'd still do it.

But then my second son was born. So my second son was born at 24 weeks, which meant that my second son was born in a hospital and in a neonatal unit. And before he was actually born, I was
five weeks in hospital, stuck in a hospital bed and not being able to move. And funnily enough or not, funny enough, that experience put a whole perspective on what you're talking about. I put on about perfection and about the demands on myself and actually having all of that happen to me put everything else into perspective.

The fact that, you know, that I had a child that was so sick, that was so ill, that needed so much, and that I had to completely switch off and everything carried on. Life continued, my career continued when I came back. And that sort of shone a spotlight into the fact that actually it is manageable.

Maybe not to the standard that I previously held myself to, but actually my family life was very important and that the time that I gave to my family did have to be rigidly maintained.

And I did have to put that time in. And it almost took an extreme situation and hospitalization for six months with the baby and everything else to put that into a much sharper perspective. I don't advise that.

16.36 SF: No, of course your perspective is particular to your circumstances and the employer that we all share and the assistance and the policies that may apply here. Those aren't, I don't think, anybody kids themselves that they are universally available or that your employers are universally understanding they will be the better and the less good employers out there. Right.

17:00 GV: I think we're fortunate in Hassans that if you speak re a problem that you're having, we have an employer that listens and if it's, you know, if it's completely unreasonable, then you'll be told that's completely unreasonable. But if you're saying, look, if I have a printer at home I can actually do more work, then by and large that printer is provided and you do get more work in  extreme circumstances.

I happily say I was extremely lucky to have the employer that I have that stood  by me in extremely difficult circumstances.

17.36 SF
And I think it's also the case because we've talked about a lot already about this perception, this idea, the idea of perfect and getting everything done perfectly and living up to them, living up to that idea. I think it's all very much amplified and this is a pet subject of mine, so I'm not going to go into it. But I think it's just all amplified by social media and all these images and perceptions that we have that have been amplified so much that it's probably not making it easier to understand that achieving these ideals of perfection are not realistic and few women, if any, achieve it.

And I think that in that context and the challenges that Tania has rightly pointed out and the action that should be taken to do as much as possible to remove these barriers, as simplistic as
it may sound, what would you consider are the key barriers to gender equality as they remain today? What are the key challenges that we need to work on? And then also Tania, I'd like to hear from you on some ideas of practical measures that you think would be effective in that context.

18.43 TR: Well, I think in terms of barriers, there are many different barriers. I think some of them are larger and some of them are smaller. I think in particular in the legal profession, which is really all I can really speak to, we're seeing now at least a 50% of new entrants being a female and in the UK it's actually a 60% of new entrants into the solicitor profession are women.

So in terms of equality, I don't think we're going to ask more for that. In terms of girls pursuing law as a profession, which is obviously great because that wasn't always the case. But we're still seeing a large disparity in senior management positions, in partner level, in leadership positions.

So there is something that is preventing women from reaching those positions and I almost refuse to believe that it's because they can't do it because they have children. I mean, men also have children. I think we have to get around this whole thing that women are the only people that are
reproducing because that clearly isn't the case. And increasingly men want to partake in their children's upbringing. Not only that they're expected to, but they want to.

So I think this narrative will have to fade out because we will, in our relationships, in our societies, expect there to be increasingly a better balance in terms of childcare, but also other caregiving responsibilities for parents, et cetera, and particularly in light of an aging population.

So I think that is one of the significant barriers because that is a cultural change, relationship change, societal change, and that takes time. But in terms of other barriers, often they're quite subtle and we were talking yesterday a lot about unconscious bias and I think there is still a perception that unconscious bias is an outright prejudice. I don't like people of a certain background or I don't like people of a certain category and that's not I mean, there may be people who are like that, but I think on the whole, and particularly here in Gibraltar, I don't think we come across that very frequently.

But unconscious bias are perceptions and assumptions that every single person has that we need to live efficiently, that our brain needs to protect us, to make decisions quickly and it's perfectly normal to have these biases. I think the important thing is that we are not aware of them and therefore our decision making is conditioned by features that we are not even aware of.

And therefore women may be getting lower bonuses, women may be overlooked for promotion opportunities, women may be overlooked for participation in a particular project that is particularly profitable. And those are the ways that I think there are barriers that are very subtly in place.

And I think in terms of solutions for those types of things, transparency is a big one, often generally in corporate environments. But I think the law profession is particularly known for secrecy around payments, remuneration systems.

And I mean, I remember once in London actually there was a firm that I was looking to actually apply to at the time and it was priding itself on the fact that nobody knew what anybody else earned. That was its selling point and I did at the time think but isn't this they felt that it was very useful because that way people didn't feel that they were competing against colleagues and things like that.

But actually that lack of transparency is what inhibits women from seeking pay rises, seeking larger bonuses, and it also stops people recognizing that there might be a disparity between male and female workers there.

So I think transparency is a big step to overcoming some of these barriers. There's an interesting anecdote about that firm. It's not just leveraging secrecy. Right?

Yeah, well, I don't know, maybe it was convenient for their management, but everybody working there seems to be very aligned to that factor and I think that times have moved on since then.

But it's not just remuneration, but it's in terms of work distribution. For example, I mean statistics in the UK law Society show that women are much more likely to be lawyers in certain areas of law which traditionally pay less, like family law for example. And for example, complex fraud cases are very largely dominated by male lawyers.

So we have to look as well at how work is distributed within the profession, within the firms, and have more transparency about that.  Why has so and so been put on that project? And it may be and often will be because they have the relevant experience and knowledge. But I think we need to look at having a proper balance of both genders in every opportunity, whether it's a promotion, whether it's a bonus, or whether it's just simply a piece of work.

23.30 SF And one of the points that that's made in the context of gender equality and the discussions around International Women's Day is that equality is good business. Right? I mean, it makes sense. It makes sense because we do have very, very talented women as we have very talented men who through their career, go through the steps in life that are relevant to them. And there is a point in time where the discrepancy arises between a mother and a father and that somehow
the money and the effort that you've invested as a business and that that person has invested in themselves is somehow potentially squandered because an event that we all know comes and happens and is part of life suddenly puts the brakes on that career.

It's not good for business in the same way as it's not good for the person. Right? And so it's probably a case of focusing, I ask, is it a case of focusing on how we persuade or rather we help business understand that it is good business to work on these issues and to tackle them directly?

24.49 TR: Statistically, it is more than proven that companies that prioritize diversity are more profitable than their competitors. That's more than shown by a wide range of data in different industries, in different jurisdictions. So I think the evidence is clearly there. I sort of have let go very much of trying to persuade people of their opinions because it's not my place to tell people what they should believe.

I just think as company managers, as managers of any business, it is your obligation to look at your bottom line. And I usually find that business people are very interested in that.

So when you can show them the reasons why this will enhance their business success, it becomes a no brainer. And often I think people have put this on an agenda of nice to have. And I think people are now seeing how important it is to the core of the business because of a number of reasons, just, for example, stakeholders and whether that's shareholders, whether that's clients, whether that's service providers increasingly want to see themselves reflected in your business.

And if you are, I don't know, a really successful female startup, you might be uncomfortable speaking to a panel that's exclusively made up of males or not.

But it's a case of having the opportunity to see that, especially in the legal profession, it's very much based on trust and personal relationships. And people need to know that the people on the other side who are advising them and who they can trust understand where they're coming from.

So yeah, it's a no brainer in terms of profitability. If you want to make more money than your competitors, you need to focus on gender equality.

26.27 SF: Yeah, that's right. I think it's fundamentally important. And actually, it probably speaks somewhat to your experience, Gemma, in terms of the birth of your second child and the very difficult times you had and the support the firm gave you. Right.

Because it does make business sense to help keep employees valued, employees supported with something as simple as you mentioned, the provision of a printer at work.

And also the wider point, the firm supported me throughout the time that I was dealing with my son in hospital. And for that, not only will I be forever grateful, but I am able to say that Hassans is a firm that supports its female employees and Hassans is a firm that stood by me, and therefore that loyalty is repaid to Hassans. It stood by me in a very difficult time, and therefore, when I came back, I came back with an appetite to work, with an appetite to rejoin the firm and feeling supported that even if my son wasn't 100% when I joined the firm.

But I knew that my colleagues understood what I was going through and my colleagues were extremely supportive of having to rush off to the doctor, having to rush off to and it's very important that women feel that they can come back to an environment that isn't going to be hostile to those things. And it was made very clear to me that it was understood.

24.49 SF Yeah. I mean, I think it transcends policy making at the level of the institution, because at the end of its execution and support and kindness and all the practical things that have to happen that should be happening that are more important. Clearly, policies are very important because
they set the tone absolutely. Especially in the larger corporate context. For sure.

28.12 GV I think it's important for partners, for people further up the chain, to start saying, look, if you need help, the door is open. If you need help, ask for it, and if there's something that we can do, we will go lengths to try and do it for you. The important thing here is to say, we feel that you're a valued member of the team, therefore we will support you.

28.37 SF Yeah, it's beyond shillings and pence, and I've just shown my age. I'll protest that I wasn't around when there were shillings, and I'm not that old, but it's absolutely right. This is of critical importance in the context, not just of the International Women's Day context that we're talking about here today, but increasingly accepted in the context of just general mental health, well-being and so many other facets of the human interaction and the professional context.

And so I think it's been a very valuable discussion to have this morning around these issues. And my hope is that in having this discussion, we're able to at least persuade those who might need persuading of some of the more practical things that can be done and the important human factors of the agenda that need to be pursued and that it, that it transcends policy.

It's just a matter of providing the right support. The policy is important, of course, and you need to understand what the issues are to be able to start tackling them. But clearly on the ground, certainly here at Hassan, I think it's fair to say that there is a continuing commitment to developing policy. In this regard, we are fortunate. You're absolutely right, we're fortunate in that it is a very supportive firm in this and many other contexts. I mean, there are many stories that we could tell, but we won't because they're very personal.But I think we're fortunate in that context and hopefully a lesson or two can be learnt in the wider picture from the Hassans way of approaching it.

And in that context, given how useful this conversation has been, I'd like to hand over to Chloe to maybe talk a little bit about what our plan is for the next five or six episodes and what we'd like to do in this context.

30.43 COF So I think it's important to keep the conversation going. Not just on a particular topic that I know we've spoken about a lot today, but just to open it up to other women in our community,
ones that started businesses, ones that work in other organizations to get an idea from them.

Also how their experiences with these issues and how they get through it. And just to keep the conversation going, because I think it's important for us to hear from others. And through that, you feel more supported, you feel less alone, and it's more an exchange of ideas. So I'm really looking forward to the next five or six podcasts.

31.31 SF Yes, I'm looking forward to that too. I'm looking forward in doing these next few episodes, focusing on the women in Gibraltar who are leading by example to sharing the studio with the other excellent women we have here at Hassans. We couldn't fit them all into the one podcast, so we're going to take advantage of the next few to get as many as we can in the room with us to hear their insights, too.

This has been a really interesting discussion and considering it's our first outing, pilot even, it's been a remarkably smooth and enjoyable experience. I'm looking forward to the next few episodes and would encourage our listeners to reach out with any feedback.

If you'd like to join us on keeping it civil and share your perspective of the business, regulatory and legal landscape intervals from beyond, we'd be delighted to hear from you, as ever in these things.

Please don't forget to follow us on our social media channels to ensure you hear about the latest episode.

If you like what you heard, we'll be happy to hear from you with suggestions on topics you want us to talk about too. We're just starting out, so we're keen to hear from the people we hope we're speaking to.

And that leaves me with nothing more than to say thank you very much to the three of you for being here today, for being the pioneers for Hassans and getting this in the can or in the SD card, as the case may be.

And I look forward to spending much more time with you guys in this room on many different subjects in the coming weeks and months.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.

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